Japan is a country like no other … you may have roamed across the world, including all of Asia, but seen nothing like it. The discipline, sometime bordering on absurdity, seems shocking to an outsider. But it’s this discipline that had propelled Japan to one of the most economically successful countries in the world. More so, post 1945, after the country was all but destroyed in WWII.
If you had asked any Indian in the 80s & 90s as to the two countries they want to visit – it would have been UK and Japan. Times have changed, but the fascination hasn’t.
Most Japanese stay in suburbs while working in Tokyo – life is a huge struggle. Leaving early mornings, taking trains to the city which can take more than an hour … and working more than 10/12 hours is standard. An average house is not more than a room, with kitchens a dream…which doesn’t really matter as no one has time to cook. Most young people are single … a major social problem in Japan due to the high cost of living & I guess ‘choice’. Eating out is not a luxury but a necessity here and almost everyone I knew there, ate lunch & dinner out – in one of the hundred’s of eateries lining streets and stations. Bento boxes – no surprise are the standard meal, and they are good ! One just grabs one from the dozen of options in every store. Almost everyone eats in the trains …
Will focus on few things that I noticed during my trips to Japan and which I never forgot … thing’s that fascinated me even after I had made a dozen trip to different cities there. Patience is a virtue and you will learn what it truly means in Japan.
Trains & Stations …Trains in Japan are a snapshot of Japanese culture and an integral part of Japanese life. The stations have amazed and shocked me equally … travelling is easy in Japan and language is no barrier. Just avoid the automatic machines and line up at the manned counters – yo get tickets & instructions in english. Almost every sign there is in Japanese & English, directions so good that a blind man can travel alone. The first thing that you notice in a platform are people … sometimes hundreds – but in perfect discipline, no shoving, pushing, or even crowding. The unique thing about these stations are the colors lines everywhere … and each one of them having a meaning. They run in different colors, parallel to each other, twisting an turning in the narrow spaces … There are lanes for walking, lanes for waiting, lanes for boarding … and people follow these rules every day, without fail.
What fascinated me were the lanes for waiting – you have one for the upcoming train, another for the one following it. Simple, methodical and highly effective… the next best thing is the boarding indicator. The exact location of the doors are marked and believe me, the doors will open EXACTLY between the 2 lines, not an inch either way. The discipline is over whelming for an Indian. The Shinkansens / local trains stops exactly where it’s supposed to … exactly when it’s supposed to. To the minute … every time, every day. When travelling to a new town / city, I would simply check my watch and get off the train even if there were no announcements. You cannot go wrong !
For all of you who hate sitting in the opposite direction of travel (like Deepa), at the stations after the passengers disembark, the seats turn around automatically. My Japanese agent told me to watch and was smiling at my open jaws the first time round. Japanese efficiency and detail to small things is something I wish other countries could emulate.
Hate co passengers talking on mobiles and disturbing your during your journey, In Japan you won’t face it. In case you receive or get a call – one just gets up and goes out of the seating area carriage to the open space near the doors. There too, speak quietly, with hands covering your mouth. I just love these people!
Last thing, the Shinkansen’s themselves … the designs can overwhelm anyone and usually ‘the’ snapshot of ones Japan tour is the one taken in front of the engine
Also Read — Japanese Food in Mumbai, India